As good as the mind is at finding solutions and answers, it is even better at finding questions and doubts.
The path of Torah is to ponder its truths, so that your mind and heart will resonate with those truths, until all your deeds are guided by a voice that has no second thoughts.
-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
How many of us ever take the time to stop and think about our theology, our deeply cherished and hard fought over arguments? Recently a popular blogger I know expressed a concern about even entertaining opposing arguments lest one lose one’s faith as a result of sown doubts – to him it wasn’t a good idea to engage the opposition in a non-polemic way, that is in a way that actually allows that other peoples arguments may, by some odd chance, hold water. And then I came across the following poignant remark that puts all this into better focus.
Ever thought you may be wrong about your cherished theology?
Daily Minyan blog
Questioning your own faith is a horrible thing. I know. I’ve been there. I spent an entire year, actually two, questioning the assumptions of my faith in virtually every detail. Eventually, I came to a crisis and fortunately passed through it with my faith in God intact. I recall the day I discovered what this person has just mentioned at Christian Forums:
wow, I never considered that 2 Peter was not written by Peter. Some say it was, some say it wasn’t. Hmff. Is there like a guarunteed listing of who wrote what or who didn’t write what?
Actually, most New Testament scholars acknowledge that not all of the Gospels and Epistles were written by the people to whom they are attributed. I discovered this reading Bart D. Ehrman’s Jesus, Interrupted (a challenging book which I highly recommend). Once I got past this, and the fact that there actually are inconsistencies in the Bible (compare the different Gospel versions of the day Jesus died and then try to figure out which day it was…the accounts conflict), I recovered my balance a bit. Then I realized that I didn’t have to depend on the Bible reading like a history book or a court deposition in order to gain wisdom and understanding from the stories the Bible tells us.
Questioning our assumptions isn’t a disaster and in my case, it resulted not only in a “course correction”, but in a greater zeal in returning to the Bible and seeing God in the writings of the Jewish prophets, apostles, and sages. However, in Judaism, the Torah isn’t simply a document or a way to try to grasp the essence of God through study. It is so much more and to understand this, we must step outside of what we consider a “rational reality”, for God doesn’t manifest in only the material world:
The answer depends on insight into the nature of the Torah. The Torah is one with G-d, an expression of His essential will. Therefore, just as His will is above intellectual comprehension, so too is the Torah. Nevertheless, G-d gave the Torah to mortals, not because He desires their obedience, but because He is concerned for their welfare. He wants man to develop a connection with Him, and for that connection to be internalized within man’s understanding, so that G-dly wisdom becomes part of his makeup. And with that intent, He enclothed the Torah in an intellectual framework.
This intellectual dimension is, however, merely an extension of the Torah. The Torah’s essence remains transcendent G-dliness, and cannot be contained within any limits even the limits of intellect. To relate to this essence, man must approach the Torah with a commitment that transcends wisdom or logic.
-Rabbi Eli Touger
“Beyond the Ken of Knowledge”
Parshas Chukas; Numbers 19:1-25:9
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XVIII, p. 229ff
Christianity doesn’t even imagine the Bible being more than the Bible; a book written under the Divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit and recorded by many different people across thousands of years. It’s hard for me to imagine that the church misses this, since it’s stated quite plainly here:
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. –John 1:1-5
Certainly “the Word” is not just “the word” printed on a page in a book and in fact, this particular Word “became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14). Of the four Gospels, John’s is considered the most “mystic” and it reads more like a chasidic story, which was a large part of what attracted a young Chasidic Jew named Feivel Levertoff at the end of the 19th century, to become a Chasid (a “devoted disciple”) of the “Maggid of Nazeret”, Jesus of Nazareth.
There’s a special depth in how Jews look at the Torah and find not only information about God but actually find God inhabiting the pages that are not just pages. There, they also find devotion and longing for the coming of the Moshiach (Messiah):
Yad HaChazakah is a book of laws, not a history book. What difference does it make from the perspective of Jewish law how many Parah Adumos were offered in previous generations? Moreover, why does the Rambam go on to add a prayer for the coming of Moshiach?
With regard to the obligation to believe in the coming of Moshiach, the Rambam states: “Whoever does not believe in him, or does not await his coming, denies not only [the statements of] the other prophets, but also [those of] the Torah and of Moshe, our teacher.” In other words, mere belief in Moshiach’s coming does not suffice, we are also obligated to hope for and await his arrival.
Moreover, this anticipation is to be in accordance with our thrice-daily recitation of the Amidah prayers: “Speedily cause the scion of David Your servant to flourish. for we hope for Your salvation all day.”
-Based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson
A Commentary on Torah Portion Chukas
For those of us who have faith and trust in Jesus as the Moshiach, who came once and will come again, we should take even greater comfort and meaning in the insights the Rambam and Rabbi Schneerson share with us. If we depend on “knowing God” through a Bible that must be completely internally consistent and absolutely a record of historical fact, we will become confused and disappointed or we will be forced to “bend reality” and make the text to fit our needs and preconceptions. As Rabbi Freeman says, the purpose of Torah (and the Bible as a whole) is so that we can “ponder truths” (not facts), not the least of which is the truth of the Messiah in our lives, allowing God’s Word to become intertwined into the fabric of who we are and letting all our deeds become “guided by a voice that has no second thoughts”